ATLANTA — This LSU football season has taken an off ramp into the surreal.
Just think about it for a moment. What else can you say when its quarterback — its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback — has thrown for over 5,200 yards and 55 touchdowns?
When he throws seven touchdowns in one record-smashing first half in a 63-28 rout of Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl?
When the Tigers are now headed to New Orleans for the CFP National Championship Game, the fourth straight time a national title has been decided in the Crescent City and LSU has been in the game?
This is the program that, if you recall, used to struggle to throw for 200 yards per game. Now, LSU has a quarterback in Joe Burrow who Saturday threw for more touchdowns in a half than the Northwestern Wildcats threw in an entire 12-game season (six).
You look at the FBS stats and they still boggle the mind. Like some sort of grand typographical error from a different dimension that never heard of three yards and a cloud of dust:
• Total offense: 1st, 564.2 yards per game
• Scoring offense: 1st, 48.9 points per game
• Passing offense: 2nd, 397.2 yards per game
• Red zone offense: 1st, .971
• First downs: 2nd, 389
LSU has been rewriting the record books all season faster than the ink can dry -- and that was especially true in a Peach Bowl rout of Oklahoma.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who has been part of some prolific, national championship-winning programs when he was an assistant at Miami and Southern California, is even taken aback by what he watches his Tigers do almost every time they touch the ball.
“I’ve been part of some good football teams,” Coach O said, “but I’ve never been part of something like this.
“When you see what those guys are doing out on the field, I’m kind of a fan. I’m like, ‘Hey, go ahead guys. Way to go, man.’ It’s incredible what this coaching staff has done, what these players have done.”
They may need to be as incredible one more time.
There aren’t a lot of “us against the world” cards for LSU to play in this one against Clemson. It’s going to have to be straight, stellar execution to beat the team that just refuses to lose, a winner of 29 straight, counting Saturday night’s 29-23 Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State.
For LSU, and Clemson quite frankly, it’s still an unusual position to be in.
Through its long, colorful and (usually) successful football history, LSU has often been cast most comfortably in the role of the underdog trying to spring the huge upset.
Some of LSU’s greatest football moments have come in situations just like that. Snapping Arkansas’ 22-game unbeaten streak in the 1966 Cotton Bowl. Winning the “Pigs will fly” game in 1993 at Alabama to end the Crimson Tide’s 31-game unbeaten streak. Beating No. 1 for the first time when the 1997 Tigers knocked off reigning national champion Florida.
There is no capacity for LSU to fill the role of underdog in the CFP National Championship Game against Clemson. LSU already went into the CFP as the No. 1 seed. Then on the strength of its rout of Oklahoma, LSU generally opened as a 3½-point favorite over Clemson. The line climbed to 5½ points and 6 in some circles by Sunday.
Then there are all the awards, all the prizes and trophies LSU has stacked up. It’s all getting a little ridiculous. By the time Joe Burrow collected the Peach Bowl offensive MVP prize after Saturday night’s Sooners blowout, his second straight after picking up a similar prize for his play in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, he almost looked sheepish. As in, “Where am I going to put this one?”
ATLANTA — Steve Ensminger stood inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and wiped his eyes. He looked around the expansive venue as LSU warmed up before …
Perhaps it can serve as a glittery paperweight.
There is one thing for LSU to try to stop: Clemson’s reach for college football history.
In the Associated Press poll era, the acknowledged beginning of the modern game in 1936, there have been only three programs that have won three national titles in four seasons. Notre Dame (1946, 1947 and 1949), Nebraska (1994, 1995 and 1997) and, yes, Alabama (2009, 2011 and 2012).
Clemson won the CFP titles in 2016 and again in 2018. Another title will allow Dabo Swinney’s program to join that elite group.
You get the impression these LSU Tigers need something to rally around. Something to make them if not the underdog, then to allow them to wear the black hat. They have taken more than a little pleasure in smashing the dreams of other teams in 2019.
LSU deserves to be the favorite. The purple and gold Tigers have played by far a tougher schedule, beating six teams that were in the top 10 at the time they played (Texas, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma). Naysayers will point to the fact that though Oklahoma might have had a brilliant offense with Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts and All-American receiver CeeDee Lamb, its defense was chocked full of holes that Burrow threw all those touchdown passes through.
This will be much different. Clemson is one of only two teams in the country ranked in the top five nationally in scoring offense and defense, total offense and defense. And it just beat the other one.
But there is some undeniable quality about this LSU team with the way it’s playing offense. So much has worked out for LSU, including the CFP title game being in New Orleans, destiny seems to be playing a hand.